Friday, May 8, 2015

Beowulf Readalong, Week I

This has been pretty great so far.  I've been reading the Tolkien prose version, and I was/am going to also read another poetic translation, but the book disappeared for a few days, so I couldn't do that.  It just turned up again and I'll read to catch up.

Tolkien's prose is interesting.  I read 100 lines at a time and then read the commentary on those lines, which took a lot longer!  The majority of the commentary is on the first part of the poem, so that will be much shorter from now on.  I also ran into a problem; the story is marked with line numbers and, without thinking too much about it, I read the first 700.  Only to realize that there are two sets of line numbers in the notes; naturally, the prose runs differently and I'd gotten all the way to the battle with Grendel.  So, blah.

Anyway, lots happened in those 700 lines; Hrothgar's reign and building of Heorot are described, Beowulf shows up, there's some arguing with Unferth, and then an epic battle.  It was neat to read Tolkien's version that tries so hard to get every word right.


The notes are very useful indeed.  For one thing, he explains the cultural meaning of a lot of story elements and helps the modern reader grasp them.  He explains Heorot as the Saxon equivalent of Camelot; a legendary wonderful stronghold, the seat of a great king and a setting that invokes both knightly prowess and enchantment.  Then, he spends a lot of time on the poet's background and faith, and how he clearly struggles to define Grendel.  Grendel is a monster, but does he have a soul?  Can't he repent?  The poet solves this problem by looking to the Old Testament and finding mentions of giants and of Cain. 

So far, so good; this is some great stuff.  On to the next section!

1 comment:

cleopatra said...

I'm so glad that you're enjoying it. Please feel free to share any wonderful tidbits that you glean from reading Tolkien's translation. I have it but I'm tending to stick to the Heaney and the Swanton translations. Two I can handle, but three are a little overwhelming. I will go back and scour Tolkien's translation someday, I promise! :-)